6 Ways Top Leaders Flex Their Styles

Most of us default to one style that we use pretty much 95% of the time. The problem is that everyone around us has their prime style that they default to 95% of the time too. That greatly increases the risk of misalignment and disagreements.

Flexing their leadership style for different situations and with a variety of people is one of the top areas my coaching clients want to work on. They want to reduce misunderstandings and keep everyone focused on goals.

“You’re Both Saying the Same Thing!”

And because we default to our own styles, while we may be conversing, we’re actually not truly connecting with each other. If you’ve ever got into a heated discussion when a more level-headed observer interjects, “You’re both saying the same thing!”, then you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Orange to Me, Pink to You

As a leader, we need to quickly recognize and adopt the conversation styles of other people and for different scenarios.

When you observe top leaders at work, you’ll start to spot those times when they are flexing their styles and switch ways of explaining things with great ease. They will present a seemingly straightforward concept (say the color ‘orange’) as something that has the power to transform or motivate (explaining how it can also be something else, like ‘pink’ at the same time).



 Mastering these styles will help us become more influential in our conversations and negotiations.

1. Logical Left Brain

Facts, logic, analysis, information and data all sit here. When you are an authority, or when you know facts that matter to the other person, relying on the left brain can help you convince someone that an idea makes sense.

However, the Logical Left Brain is overused, especially in Western society. Phrases like “death by Powerpoint” come about for a reason! A great story – like our own learnings and especially our mistakes – will make for a far more compelling case and leave a lasting impression.

2. Storytelling Right Brain

We process images, stories, metaphors, and pictures here. It’s the gateway to our subconscious. Stories and images help to recall memories and feelings. They create connections and common ground.

We all have them and as leaders, we can reach people by tapping into them. Often starting a presentation or a conversation with a story will create interest and engagement sufficient to create an opening for Logical Left Brain conversations.

3. Centering Gut

The gut, or “hara” as the Japanese call it, is our center. When we take a stand, negotiate, assert appropriately, create a contract, or set boundaries, we’re usually in this place.

When we influence from the gut, we tell someone what we like and don’t like about their performance, tell them what we expect, and offer incentives to encourage them to buy into an idea.

The additional challenge of our centering gut is that emotions have a higher currency here. It takes practice to have your gut guide you in decisions and an Open & Vulnerable Heart or Team Spirit to take people with you.

4. Open & Vulnerable Heart

In situations where we want authentic commitment and not just compliance, it is not enough to tell or assert. We have to be a little bit vulnerable.

Here, the conversation shifts to asking for advice and help, listening to the other person’s aspirations and goals to craft a solution, and being flexible about how things get done.

The leader doesn’t have to be wishy-washy, especially on the final goal, but is open to new ideas about how he or she can be better, and how to get to the goal.

5. Team Spirit

The spirit is about our shared values and experiences. Here, we appeal to our common ground and the bonds that hold us together.

Use this approach to form a team and create a feeling of alignment. Check in regularly. How’s everyone doing? Is anyone lost or unsure about how they are contributing?

6. Compelling Vision

This is about where we’re going. Here, we are painting a compelling, inspiring picture about where we can go together, and then we invite others to jump in and build on the vision.

This is the approach to use for a team that is kicking off, or when a push is needed to get people to move forward despite challenges.

If we combine our Storytelling Right Brain, our Team Spirit and Compelling Vision skills together, we can make a solid case that gets a team aligned in a powerful, authentic way.

Play Around with Different Styles

People who are masters at influencing others have a knack for tuning into the needs of others in various situations. From a young age, they will probably have been observers of human behavior. The ways of others occupy much of their thoughts. They come to know, instinctually, how to talk about things in ways that mean more to others.

Of the influencing conversations above, you may recognize one or two as your own usual style. So then for you, it’s the other styles that you are not normally drawn to that require your investment and experimentation.

It will feel awkward at first but it’s really worth practicing. I often advise my clients to pick a style they admire in others and start playing around with it. Test a story out on a friendly colleague over coffee, in a meeting, at a training workshop, or even at home.

Ask for Feedback So You Can Get Better, More Comfortable

How did that sound? What do you remember about what I said? What did you like most? What grated on you? Did I sound natural? Was I clear? Did I take too long to say it all? What do I need to work on?

Why not offer others a chance to practice on you? Observing others is a phenomenal way to increase our own awareness and learning.